I’ve always loved that Halloween is an opportunity to be someone you are not. So when I ventured out to the vintage clothing shops of Toronto’s Kensington Market to find a Halloween costume I didn’t have a specific one in mind, but I was excited by the opportunity to reinvent myself for just one night. But I quickly discovered that when it comes to women’s costumes, designers have opted for as little coverage as possible – and women are buying it.
After struggling to find anything inspiring in the first few stores, I made my way to Exile, a quirky shop that proudly displayed puffy skirts and skeletons in the front window, and where wigs and packaged costumes lined the inside walls. The woman who greeted us at the door was in full costume, a Little Red Riding Hood ensemble, which, judging from the fit, appeared to have been tailored for a child.
A quick scan of the store reminded me what modern Halloween is truly about: sex. From the section devoted to the “Naughty Nurse” and “Dirty Doctor” (note that the Dirty Doctor costume involves surgical scrubs while the nurse costume is a sleeveless mini dress), to Wonder Woman and French maids, there was nothing modest about these costumes.Since I was unwilling to wear a napkin with a zipper, I didn’t find a costume that day. So I turned to the internet.
The online costume store BuyCostumes.com has 61 pages of “sexy costumes” for women. The typical “sexy” costumes are all there: Burlesque Babe, Wonder Woman, Naughty Nurse and Vixen Pirate Wench. Other options include the more racially insensitive “Indian Princess” and “Eskimo Cutie,” and things I hadn’t realized were sexy like “Ms Krueger” (as in Freddy Krueger), “Racy Robin Hood” and the “Queen Bumblebee.”
When did this happen? When did outfits that once would have been sold exclusively at sex shops for private use become the standard for otherwise sensible women?
Somewhere along the way we seem to have gotten confused. Author and columnist Ariel Levy puts it likes this in her 2006 book Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture: “Only thirty years (my lifetime) ago, our mothers were “burning their bras” and picketing Playboy, and suddenly we were getting implants and wearing the bunny logo as supposed symbols of our liberation.”
Women are deriving power from the tease of these costumes and calling it equality. Wearing provocative Halloween costumes as a means of female empowerment is like watching porn for the dialogue.
It’s been called Sex and City feminism, or as The New York Times’ Judith Warner more accurately called it “girls-gone-wild feminism.” This is the world where girls grow up wanting to be characters on The Hills instead of Prime Minister, where appearing in a sex video replaces the need for talent, and where girls can do and be almost anything, but don’t have the desire. Mainstream media presents women as sexy and liberated but the female pop culture icons many young women aspire to be are just under dressed and superficial.
Part of me feels conflicted because Halloween really is the only time I could get away with wearing a mini-dress and stilettos without being labelled a slut. But inserting “sexy” in front of any profession, animal, or ethnic group isn’t providing new options, it’s just a single option wrapped in more attractive adjectives.
So mostly I just feel sad. Sad that many women wouldn’t even consider a clever, scary, or ugly costume, and sad that somehow this holiday has become the day that women exploit themselves without giving it a second thought.
Like Levy says, “It is worth asking ourselves if this bawdy world of boobs and gams we have resurrected reflects how far we’ve come, or how far we have left to go?”
This year you can be even sexier as a sexy clown fish, sexy big bird or a sexy tootsie roll! Because dressing like a regular tootsie roll is what your grandma would do. Gross.